I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid. I was an early riser, and would wake up before anyone else in my family, head in to the living room and switch on the TV. The cartoons didn’t start until 6:30am so I would watch an early morning aerobics show, rather than stay in bed.
I don’t know how young I was when I started this routine, but it is one of the earliest memories I have. I don’t have my parents around now to confirm, but I’d estimate I was clocking a solid 2 hours of TV in the morning every day before school. It’s exactly what experts warn you not to let your young kids do in 2021.
When my dad brought home our first computer, I was obsessed. It was an MS-DOS machine. It had simple games and shit 2-bit graphics, but I lived for playing with it. From that time on, I spent a lot of energy on thinking about when I could use the computer next, or fighting with my mum about whether I’d spent too much time on the computer.
I would accept invitations to other kids’ houses in primary school not so much because I wanted to hang out, but because they had a computer game I liked. I was that kid. Although my sister was parented the same way, she wasn’t really phased by the TV or the computer. She enjoyed them, but was also quite happy to spend time doing something else. I just seemed to be born with the “screen gene”.
I see that “screen gene” has manifested itself within my eldest child. They are showing all the signs. The complete absorption in the TV when it is on. The constant questioning about when they can have the iPad next. It is my obsessive behaviour around screens being reflected back at me, and I don’t like it.
Sometimes, when the kids get a little too much screen time, my husband and I joke that I got a lot of TV when I was a kid and I “turned out fine”. The joke being that I am not actually fine. Considering how enamoured I was with the television, early computers, the Gameboy, the PlayStation and more sophisticated PCs later on, you can imagine how I embraced the iPhone. My first iPhone was probably the most exciting tech purchase of my entire life. I was a goner.
Keeping a lid on my screen usage is a constant suck of my energy. Some days I do better than others. If I am particularly tired or burnt out, my discipline around screen usage is the first thing to go. And then I feel bad because I’m not modelling healthy behaviour for my kids.
It’s not like my love for screens has been a completely negative influence on my life. I’ve channeled my love for screens in to a successful career as a web developer. I’ve also spent way too much time on screens ignoring my friends, ignoring my family, ignoring my life.
For the last few years, I’ve kind of been sick of my own shit around this subject. And I really don’t want to project all my baggage around screens and their temptations on my poor kids, who just want to enjoy some Cocomelon in peace. Something’s gotta shift.
I expect dropping this story/belief about my inability to control myself around screens is part of the solution. I need to stop identifying as a natural born screen addict and come up with a new narrative for myself. It’s what psychologists call a “limiting belief” about myself, for sure. Changing it is easier said than done when it’s something that has followed me around for as long as I can remember.